Money is often at the forefront of our thoughts. Most of us have dreamt of a number — how much money do we want before we retire?
For some, this is the arbitrary trophy number that they’ve picked that allows them to stop trying and hang up their gloves (and often to be able to do something they really care about).
For others, it could be more logical, like some function of retirement age, financial lifestyle requirements, and potential investment returns over a period of time. They determine how much money they’ll need to be able to live the life they want without actively generating new income.
I’ve always been one to think more about the jackpot.
I can see now, though, that I only think about big numbers because I haven’t done the rest of the thinking required to arrive at a logical figure — that is, the amount of money I’d need to actually live the life I want.
Thoreau wrote about this in Walden, calling it his new economics. It seemed to him then that people would be better off maintaining fewer possessions for generating new income, as he saw that many farmers had to continually produce more crop to pay for the new technology they’d implement, which would produce more crop and more expenses. It’s a circular thing. Work begets work and spending begets spending.
Nobody ever came out and told me that money solves all of my problems. Undoubtedly, I was taught this lesson by culture. It seems to me now that culture lionizes those with expensive things, not full bank accounts — for how else are we supposed to know they have an abundance if not by the abundance of things they have on display?
I have to wonder — what if culture lionized those with an abundance of time? It seems to me that those with excess time are portrayed as slackers, or demotivated — normative statements from people who don’t share the same values.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
Money, fiat currency in particular, has no intrinsic value and is predicated on faith. Other people believe that dollars are worth something, so they are.
For most of us, we exchange our time, effort, and expertise for money. Said another way: money is a representation of value. Money received is a token of value that you’ve created for others.
The problem is that having money is a poor representation of the value that you’ve received yourself.
Sure, we can buy some of the things and experiences that bring us joy — and we should. But there is a longer list of things that to me are worth more than I could ever pay for them. Some of the best things in life aren’t for sale.
So if money can only buy a fraction of the experiences and things that create a meaningful life, why do we optimize so much of our lives for the accumulation of it?
We can always make more money, but we can’t get ourselves more time.
We can choose to apportion it differently, which is what we should do, but we can’t decide to make more of it.
“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” ― Charles Darwin
Most of us have a pretty good idea of where our money goes. There are dozens of popular budgeting applications, New York Times bestsellers, iTunes topping podcasts, and tens of thousands of financial planners and advisors with full client rosters.
How many of us carefully review how we spend our time? How often do you exercise restraint on how you spend your time? Does your time utilization in any given week accurately reflect your real priorities?
Had we never invented ways to track the passage of time we’d probably live a lot more in the moment.
We’d be much more free to lose ourselves in the things that we love. Our clocks are a persistent reminder of our most scarce resource, and the multitude of ways that we agreed to spend it.
We typically don’t feel the tyranny of time except at the extremes. If we have too much time, we’re bored. If we have too little, we’re stressed, and anxious. Our relationship with time isn’t well adjusted.
As for parting thoughts, this one’s simple: Be intentional about your attention. How you spend your minutes is how you spend your hours; how you spend your hours is how you spend your days; and how you spend your days is how you spend your life.
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I'm a developer, marketer, and writer based in Appleton, Wisconsin.